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New York Dominicans Mourn The Loss Of The Plane Crash Victims - 2001-11-14

The majority of victims in Monday's crash of the American Airlines flight from New York City to Santo Domingo were from the Dominican Republic. Many were members of a growing Dominican community in New York City, whose ties to their homeland are an important part of their lives.

The Dominican community of New York City, the second largest Hispanic group after Puerto Ricans, is mourning as it tries to cope with the aftermath of the deadly plane crash.

American Airlines Flight 587 to Santo Domingo is a popular flight for New York's Dominican community, and a way for many Dominicans in New York to remain tied to their homeland.

Demographers estimate that 600,000 people of Dominican background live in New York City, with a particularly large concentration in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. They inhabit a neighborhood dotted with Hispanic shops and restaurants and travel agencies specializing in bargain rates to the Dominican Republic.

Many grieving members of that community are turning to Alianza Dominicana, a social services agency in Washington Heights. Moises Perez is its director. "This is a real difficult time and it's very difficult to mourn because it involves neighbors, friends, so it really requires professional assistance in order to do that. It's a very hard time right now that our community is going through," he said.

Leon Sanchez lost his 27-year-old nephew and two friends in the plane crash. He went to the Alianza Dominicana with personal items belonging to his relative, to assist in DNA tests that might help identify his body. "I bring some toothbrush, the comb, couple of pictures a few things the clothes he wear so we can describe what he was wearing and I just hope everything from here on go all right, " he said.

A crisis center for the families of the crash victims has been set up at the Javits Center, a large convention hall in New York City. It was used for a similar purpose after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Members of the Dominican community are coming there to get information on how to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones. But many were so overcome with grief, it was difficult just formulating words.

Voice 1: [woman crying, wailing]
Voice 2: Just to get a … for my grandma…
Voice 3: My uncle and brother are here… but we have no idea, we're just hoping we can get the corpses, the bodies. We don't know.

Elia Peres, who lost his father in the crash, also came to the crisis center. "I'm trying to get my father's body and to give him burial. This has devastated our family. It's something you see on TV, you never think it happens to you. It happened to us right now, " he said.

The Dominican community is not alone in its grief. Officials, counselors, and volunteers are on hand to provide comfort. City officials have already announced a fund to help the families of the victims.